With a week to go before this year’s NBA Draft unfolds, there is an historic level of uncertainty about the top of the lottery at this late stage of the proceedings.
While Arizona center DeAndre Ayton seems to be emerging as a consensus choice for the top pick, after that, things are completely wide open.
Here, then, is our best stab at how the some of the first round will play out, seven days before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will take the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to announce selections:
1. Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
The Suns have worked out several players, and coach Igor Kokoskov has ties to the other top candidate, Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic, who is still playing in Europe and thus hasn’t worked out in Phoenix. But Ayton feels like he’ll be the pick. He’s a physical specimen, and it can’t be overstated that Suns owner Robert Sarver is a prominent Arizona booster and alum.
2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, SF, Real Madrid
There has been a lot of talk lately about Doncic slipping out of the top three – and, equally, about a lot of teams attempting to trade up to get their hands on him. That said, I can’t see a scenario in which the Kings, a team run in part by a pair of Serbians in Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, pass on a potential superstar from the Balkans.
3. Atlanta Hawks: Jaren Jackson, Jr., PF/C, Michigan State
Expected to be the youngest player drafted, Jackson, 18, projects to be an intriguing prospect as a 40 percent shooter from 3 (80 percent at the free-throw line) who can also block shots and switch screens. That is exactly what every team is looking for in today’s NBA – something Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, who spent a long time in Golden State, knows better than just about anyone.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Duke
With owner Robert Pera saying this week he thinks his team can win 50-plus games next season, it would make sense for Memphis to find a player who complements veterans Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Bagley would be able to step in next to Gasol at power forward on Day 1.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
A massive human being, Bamba has intrigued plenty of teams at the top of the draft. He also is the type of prospect with massive boom-or-bust potential. Still, given how long Dallas has been searching for an anchor in the middle, bringing Bamba north from Austin feels like the pick here.
6. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
This is where things could start getting weird. Bamba could be an Orlando pick if he’s on the board. Duke center Wendell Carter would also make sense. But for a team desperate for scoring, star power and a point guard, we’ll put Young here.
7. Chicago Bulls: Michael Porter Jr., SF/PF, Missouri
Assuming Porter’s medicals check out, it feels like this will be his floor in the draft. Chicago really needs a dynamic wing player, and Porter was projected to go in the top three before he suffered a back injury.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Brooklyn Nets): Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke
The Cavaliers would love to have either Young or Porter sitting on the board here – and if Carter goes to Orlando, they almost certainly will. In this case, though, Carter will go to Cleveland – giving the Cavaliers a long, skilled big who could wind up better than Bagley in the long term.
9. New York Knicks: Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova
Like Cleveland, New York would probably love to get its hands on Porter or Young – or potentially even move up and snag Doncic. With those options not likely to present themselves, though, giving head coach David Fizdale a mature wing such as Bridges, who can step in and immediately knock down 3s and play defense, will help the new coach establish a culture.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from Los Angeles Lakers): Zhaire Smith, SF, Texas Tech
Smith has skyrocketed up draft boards in recent weeks and now appears to have a shot at making it into the lottery. This may be ambitious, but for a team that needs more athleticism and shooting on the wings, Smith would be an intriguing long-term swingman to pair with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and, if he can get his shot right, Markelle Fultz.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
Originally expected to be a top-10 pick, Sexton has dropped a bit in recent weeks. Still, his personality and game will give Charlotte a fallback option if general manager Mitch Kupchak considers trading Kemba Walker this summer – as, given how the team’s long-term prospects look, he’d be wise to do.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (from Detroit Pistons): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
Alexander went from an off-the-radar secondary prospect to arguably Kentucky’s best NBA talent this season, capped by an impressive showing in the NCAA Tournament. He could become the long-term successor to Chris Paul in Los Angeles.
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
With a second straight pick, the Clippers can get another long-armed, long-term prospect in their backcourt. Gilgeous-Alexander and Walker could become a fearsome defensive tandem in time and give the Clippers something to build on moving forward amid a lot of roster uncertainty.
14. Denver Nuggets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky
Every team is searching for combo forwards, but Denver, in particular, is in need after cycling through many options this season. Knox is young, as is much of Denver’s core. Despite consistency issues, he has a lot of talent.